GUEST EDITORIAL. The grass strips serving the towns of Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Canada, are scheduled to close forever. Located in some of the most spectacular hiking, fishing, skiing and flying country in North America, the airports are threatened with closure because Parks Canada says they're not needed and claims that they impede the movement of wildlife (although elk, coyote, deer, wolf, cougar and numerous smaller mammals use the strips as a regular hangout). AVweb member Joe Godfrey just got back from the area, and says that this would be an excellent time for pilots to write a letter to Ottawa before Parliament votes on the closure.
March 10, 1997
|About the Author ...
Joe Godfrey mixes his love of flying with a
love of music. He is an instrument-rated private pilot who flies a 1974 Bellanca
Viking based at Palomar airport just north of San Diego, Calif. He composes
music for commercials, films, broadcast and corporate media and has composed and
produced thousands of music tracks for America's largest advertisers. In
addition to writing for AVweb, Joe contributes to
The Aviation Consumer
and IFR Magazine.
He is a director and pilot for
Flight West, a non-profit organization that uses private airplanes to fly
indigent medical patients. He is married and lives in Leucadia, California.
So far, Joe is the only AVweb staff member who has logged time with Ella Fitzgerald and
conducted the London Symphony.
The grass strips serving the towns of Banff and Jasper in Alberta,
Canada, are scheduled to close forever. This fight has been going on for
many years, and AOPA and COPA have been helping the local pilots make their
case, but if you're the letter writing type, this would be a good time to
There's a bit of Parliamentary juggling left to do before it's a fait
accompli, but if you think they're worth saving as destination or
diversionary airports, you'd better fire off a letter to Ottawa pretty soon.
Parliament plans to take up the issue at the end of March 1997.
I was on a skiing vacation in that area last week and decided to visit the
Banff airport to see about an hour of dual. I hadn't had any luck finding
an FBO before I left San Diego, and once I got there, I found out why.
The town of Banff lies near the eastern edge of Banff National Park, one
of four adjacent National Parks. I live at the beach in Southern California,
so any mountains are a refreshing change of scenery. But the mountains at
Banff are extra spectacular because the thin Bow River Valley means that
whether you're driving (the Trans Canada Highway runs through the valley),
riding the train (the Canadian Pacific Railroad runs through the valley),
skiing, fishing, hiking, or flying, you're enveloped by towering cliffs.
Banff's airport is a 3,000 foot grass strip on the north end of town, elevation
4,583 feet. It's snuggled in a little corridor of flat land between the Trans
Canada highway and Cascade Mountain. There's no FBO and no commercial
service...by law. There are about nine planes based there year round, and
several more snowbirds that come back from warmer climes after the April
thaw. It's one of those pure, pristine settings for a general aviation airport
that remind you of the glory days of early aviation.
Rumor is that Banff's airport was created in the early 30's by a petulant
movie star who wanted easy access to her vacation home. Over the years, it
has evolved into a staging area for mountain rescues and forest fire patrols,
and, perhaps most importantly, a place for overflights to divert to when
the fickle mountain weather changes.
Why Close These Airstrips?
A joint study by Parks Canada and Transport Canada determined that there
is little need for the airport for safety reasons. The pilots based at Banff
have countered that the "joint study" was authored by a commercial pilot
from Victoria, (450 miles west of Banff in a different province and climactic
zone) who didn't talk to any of the local pilots and who had flown through
the Bow Valley only once. About 60 days a year the east side of the Rockies
has upslope conditions which cause North or East winds and cloud blockages
and the East side of the mountains. Often the chinook winds and the venturi
effect create very high winds at Exshaw, the next airport 25 miles to the
east. Apparently the commercial pilot chose to ignore or was unaware of these
Parks Canada has determined that the airstrip impedes the movement of wildlife.
Parks Canada used their staff wildlife biologists to develop their conclusions.
The pilots comissioned their own study by three independent wildlife biologists
which shows movement of elk, coyote, deer, wolf, cougar and numberous small
mammal tracks on the airstrip, adjecent to it or on the lower slopes of Cascade
mountain. The pilots' study determined that the actual blockage to animal
movement is the Trans Canada Highway fence which runs into Mt. Stoney Squaw
less than a mile to the southwest. Parks Canada has no plans to relocate
A similar situation exists in Jasper, about 150 miles to the northwest.
Parks Canada has decided to close all airports in their parks unless it can
be demonstrated that they're needed:
for access to a nearby town (that isn't the case here because the Trans Canda
Highway and the Canadian Pacific Railroad serve both Banff and Jasper)...or,
for emergencies or enroute weather diversions.
The more I learned about this the more I thought about the old joke: an
environmentalist is someone who thinks it's okay for him to build
a house in the woods but wants to keep you from building one. Obviously
the pilots that live there and pilots who visit do so because of the natural
beauty, and no one would want that to vanish. Parks Canada claims that they
need to close the airstrip to promote endangered wildlife, but then they
argue that it's okay to have a national highway full of cars, trucks and
RV's, a national railroad and the government's heliport just a few hundred
feet away. The elk are not shy about using the airport. On hot days they
look for shade just like homo erectus. One of the local pilots gave
me a picture taken last summer of his 172 with an elk under each wing.
In talking to the local pilots I got the feeling that the Parks and Transport
departments had decided to work together to accomplish something neither
could do on its own, then tried to steer the facts in their direction. Maybe
for the sake of the animals it's the right thing for these airports to close.
But I agree with the local pilots that the wildlife study the government
based that decision on is far from thorough or independent.
What will happen if these two airstrips close? Local pilots will relocate
and be less available for fire patrols and mountain searches. All GA pilots
will lose convinent access to a great summer and winter destination, and,
since weather reporting stations are far and few between, it's not hard to
imagine a dramatic increase in controlled-flight-into-terrain accidents as
pilots flying through the valley encounter unexpected conditions and are
deprived of a place to divert.
What You Can Do
If you're a Canadian citizen and you think these airports are necessary
for safety reasons, send a letter to your MP. I'm told you don't even need
a stamp from within Canada. If you're from below the 49th parallel, send a
Margaret Bloodworth, Deputy Minister
or send a fax to: 613 991-0851.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Since the Parks Canada Act states that "Banff and Jasper will have air
service," they'll have to amend the Act before they can implement the Bow
River study. But hurry, they plan to debate the issue during this session